The μ-opioid receptor regulates reward derived from both drug use and natural experiences, including social interaction, through actions in the nucleus accumbens. Here, we studied nucleus accumbens microcircuitry and social behavior in male and female mice with heterozygous genetic knockout of the μ-opioid receptor (Oprm1 +/-). This genetic condition models the partial reduction of μ-opioid receptor signaling reported in several neuropsychiatric disorders. We first analyzed inhibitory synapses in the nucleus accumbens, using methods that differentiate between medium spiny neurons (MSNs) expressing the D1 or D2 dopamine receptor. Inhibitory synaptic transmission was increased in D2-MSNs of male mutants, but not female mutants, while the expression of gephyrin mRNA and the density of inhibitory synaptic puncta at the cell body of D2-MSNs was increased in mutants of both sexes. Some of these changes were more robust in Oprm1 +/- mutants than Oprm1 -/- mutants, demonstrating that partial reductions of μ-opioid signaling can have large effects. At the behavioral level, social conditioned place preference and reciprocal social interaction were diminished in Oprm1 +/- and Oprm1 -/- mutants of both sexes. Interaction with Oprm1 mutants also altered the social behavior of wild-type test partners. We corroborated this latter result using a social preference task, in which wild-type mice preferred interactions with another typical mouse over Oprm1 mutants. Surprisingly, Oprm1 -/- mice preferred interactions with other Oprm1 -/- mutants, although these interactions did not produce a conditioned place preference. Our results support a role for partial dysregulation of μ-opioid signaling in social deficits associated with neuropsychiatric conditions. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Activation of the μ-opioid receptor plays a key role in the expression of normal social behaviors. In this study, we examined brain function and social behavior of female and male mice, with either partial or complete genetic deletion of μ-opioid receptor expression. We observed abnormal social behavior following both genetic manipulations, as well as changes in the structure and function of synaptic input to a specific population of neurons in the nucleus accumbens, which is an important brain region for social behavior. Synaptic changes were most robust when μ-opioid receptor expression was only partially lost, indicating that small reductions in μ-opioid receptor signaling can have a large impact on brain function and behavior.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by the University of Minnesota MnDRIVE (Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and Innovation Economy) initiative (to E.M.L. and P.E.R.), as well as the National Institutes of Health: Grants MH-122094 (C.T.), DA-007234 (C.T., D.D.B.), DA-052109 (D.D.B.), DA-037279 (P.E.R.), and DA-048946 (P.E.R.). We thank Bailey Remmers and David Leipold for technical assistance; as well as Adrine Kocharian, Marc Pisansky, Cassie Retzlaff, and Brian Trieu for stimulating discussions. We also thank the University of Minnesota Mouse Behavior Core for use of their facilities to conduct behavioral tests, and Drs. Robert Meisel and Paul Mermelstein for generously sharing resources. The authors declare no competing financial interests. Correspondence should be addressed to Patrick E. Rothwell at firstname.lastname@example.org. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2440-20.2021 Copyright © 2021 the authors
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